Where did George Clooney come from? And, considering the myriad ways in which he's made moviegoing immeasurably more pleasureable over the past few years, whatever did we do to deserve such a gift?
I've been mulling this over, the past month or so, as one after another people whose judgement on these things I generally respect have ordered me to keep an eye out for his second film, Good Night, and Good Luck. Look at the guy's resume: a devastatingly handsome former TV actor, who got his start playing boyfriend roles on two significant girl-power sitcoms (Facts of Life and Roseanne), Clooney somehow not only made a successful transition to films, but his very star image has almost single-handedly redefined popular masculinity. There may come a day when gender studies looks to Clooney as a landmark figure, a kind of latter-day Hugh Hefner, except without the same kind of chauvinist toxicity. Has anyone else in the past thirty years done as much to repair the damage done by militant feminism to the cool quotient of the casually macho, 45 year-old straight white male?
And then - then! - the guy starts making his own movies. Confessions of a Dangerous Mind was a little messy, but on the whole I think it's incredibly underrated. As a director, Clooney's obviously picked up a thing or two from Steven Soderbergh, but he makes it his own, and Confessions is as much of an auteur piece as any film based on an imaginary memoir really could be. Still, I don't think it prepared me for Good Night, a subversive knock-out of a film that deserves most of its pre-release buzz. The hunk from ER, given free-reign, made this movie? It's stuff like this that makes my job really interesting.
Edward R. Murrow was determined to use Senator Joseph McCarthy's own words to indict the witch-hunting senator in the court of public opinion, and Clooney and Grant Heslov's script uses the same tactic. You can try to fault the film for for attempting to play on partisan sympathies, but you'd have a hard time disputing its methods. McCarthy plays himself, via archival footage; Murrow's on-air words are pulled verbatim. It's a case of real life providing better support than anything that Clooney or Heslov – who are obviously trying curr a certain kind of ideological favor – could have made up. Watching it, one can easily imagine Clooney pouring over transcripts of Murrow's broadcasts with a raging liberal hardon; that said, I can't imagine what it would be like to watch this film and not get a little turned-on. His passion is nothing if not seductive. There's an energy to the film that's undeniably urgent and propulsive, which belies its crisp black-and-white cinematography, swooping camera work, and the semi-ironic Greek chorus provided by jazz singer Dianne Reeves. It's agit-prop in evening wear, and, perhaps surprisingly, it really works.
Good Night is getting a lot of rapturous reviews, but I thought I should point out Phil Hall's very impassioned vote against it. Writing for Film Threat, Hall breaks down everything he thinks is wrong with the film, from the casting of David Strathairn as Murrow ("Why Clooney didn’t bother to play the role himself is a mystery, since he bears more of a resemblance to Murrow"), to the (mis)use of Reeves ("to the film’s detriment, her presence is an intrusion (albeit a jazzy one) and it keeps derailing the story’s flow"). I disagree with him on all counts, but the dissertation is worth a read as a primer on how to misread the film.
Good Night, and Good Luck will be released by Warner Independent Pictures on October 7.